Robert Spillane is a confident young man who never outwardly doubted the fact that he belongs, after going undrafted out of Western Michigan in 2018, even though he spent about half that year unemployed, with only two games on the Tennessee Titans’ 53-man roster in October. Prior to that, he was on the practice squad.
He hasn’t been without a job since February of 2019, however, when the Pittsburgh Steelers first picked him up. He spent the first half of the 2019 season on the practice squad, but has been on the 53-man roster since then, and is just coming off of his first NFL start in place of the injured Devin Bush.
When Bush went down two weeks ago, he said that his teammates immediately came around him to let him know that they know he belongs here and that the is up to the task, all he has to do is go out there and show it.
But it wasn’t their words so much as their play that really helps to instill in Spillane the sense of confidence that his job is a relatively simple one, something that he talked about after Sunday’s game, in which he made a huge stop against Derrick Henry at the goal line—even though they scored two plays later.
When asked about how he and Vince Williams are aided by the play of Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt on the outside setting the edge, he quickly mentioned the defensive front and the safety on the back end. “You feel so safe on the field because you know you have playmakers all over the field, all I have to do is do my job and play hard”, he said.
Aside from the fact that it came as a result of an injury, the situation couldn’t really be much more ideal for Spillane, except perhaps if he had a more athletic coverage linebacker playing next to him. The front line makes a lot of plays for this defense, while the safeties keep everything in front of them and take away plays over the middle.
Of course, he has only been in the lineup for a game and a half at this point. There is plenty more season to get through before we write anything approximating the definitive about what Spillane is capable of doing in the middle of this defense, or any other defense.
But I do think that the Steelers’ unit in particular sets up well for a player like him, which is why they named him the top backup in the first place. They could have gone with Ulysees Gilbert III, but they didn’t. Gilbert gets on in the dime, but it’s the Western Michigan man’s job first and foremost to get to those possession downs and obvious passing situations.